Childless at work: does it make a difference?

Remember before Mother’s Day when I wrote about Megan Krause’s book Meternity and the idea of childless workers deserving something like maternity leave? That discussion got a little derailed by Mother’s Day—and I’m so glad you all are commenting and encouraging each other, but now that the Mother’s Day madness is over for this year, let’s revisit childlessness in the workplace. Check out this follow-up article, “The Motherhood Divide in the Workplace—It’s Not as Big as You Think.”

Writer Georgene Huang, a new mom, suggests that parents and non-parents want the same things from work. Mostly they want flexible hours so they can attend to other things that are important in their lives besides work. Children are certainly a major concern, but we all have other responsibilities for which we need time, things that we can’t manage on the weekend or the few hours between work and sleep on weekdays.

For me, it was my writing and my music. Sometimes I brought my guitar to work and dashed out for an hour to perform. I know, everybody isn’t trying to do several careers at once like me, but when are we supposed to go to the dentist or the doctor or the DMV? What are we supposed to do if a plumber is coming to our house to fix our broken pipes? What if our parents, our spouses, our siblings or our friends need care during an illness or injury? What if the dog has to go to the vet?

Kids take a lot of time—and you know who was meeting with my stepson’s teachers when he was living with us? Right, me, the childless stepmom. What I’m saying is we all have stuff, and employers ought to give us time to deal with it. Obviously some occupations are more flexible than others. Somebody has to be there doing the job, but those jobs that expect you to work 80 hours a week or you’re not a team player, are not being fair to their employees, whether they have kids or not.

Tell us about your experiences. Have you felt discrimination at work as a person without kids? Have the parents dumped their work on you because they had to tend to their offspring? Do you resent your co-workers with kids? Are any of you employers with moms or dads on the staff who need extra time off? What’s a fair way to handle this?

If you still want to talk about Mother’s Day, backtrack to the Mother’s Day posts and comment there. We need to talk about it all. Thank you so much for being here and for the kind words many of you have offered me for my efforts. You all help me so much.

If you want to know what else is going on with me, check out my Unleashed in Oregon blog. This week, I talk about my brief experience with hearing aids.

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Do childless deserve ‘meternity’ leave?

Here’s an idea from author Meghann Foye that has been causing some uproar online. Weary of seeing her co-workers take a nice chunk of time off for maternity leave, she decided we childless folks deserve something she’s calling “meternity” leave. She wrote about it in the New York Post in this article titled “I want all the perks of maternity leave–without having any kids.”

Foye also wrote a novel titled Meternity. In that novel, the main character pretends to be pregnant, so she can have all the perks that the pregnant women around her are having, along with the freedom of not having kids.

All of this has irritated some people. Check the counterpoint piece by Kyle Smith in the New York Post, “Parents should be worshipped by their childless co-workers.” That’s just one of many angry responses.

Should we demand our own “meternity” leave or should we worship the mommies? Doesn’t that description of childbirth make you at least a tiny bit glad you’ve never had to do it? Be honest. It’s something to think about as we slog through another Mother’s Day this weekend.

Okay, so parents in the right work situations get paid leave for childbirth. I think we can all agree they need the time off to deal with everything that has happened to their bodies and their lives and to give the baby a good start.

Do we childless deserve a similar break to get away from work and reboot our lives? Why? I could use a reboot about every two weeks, but no. I have to earn my vacations. If I were in academia, I could earn a sabbatical every so many years, but that has nothing to do with having babies.

For all the time I have studied childlessness, I have heard accusations that moms and dads slack off at work, leaving their childless co-workers to pick up the slack. Has that been your experience? Do parents seem to get extra privileges? Do non-parents deserve the same privileges? Have you found yourself staying late and resenting your co-worker who had to run home to take care of her kids?

Most of my jobs were at newspapers, which are quite different from other workplaces. Everybody works ridiculous hours and deals with overwhelming stress. I never saw the parents get any more privileges than the rest of us. They just shut up and did the best they could. Kids? What kids? But I can see how it would happen. Who cares about a deadline when your 6-year-old is waiting to be picked up after soccer practice?

Personally, I think everyone should be able to work their 40 hours and go home, that there’s nothing wrong with taking a real lunch break and going home at 5 or 6 to have dinner with the family—or the dog, if that’s what you have. When my time was up, I was ready to punch out. Bosses and co-workers didn’t like that. That’s one of many reasons I prefer to be self-employed.

I freelanced during most of the years when we had a live-in adolescent. He seemed to be proud to bring his friends through the house and point to me—“That’s my mom (or step-mom; it varied). She’s a writer.” And yes, there I was, writing.

But not everybody can work from home. Not everybody has a working spouse to help pay the bills. Not everybody has a kid who make his own mac and cheese.

I’m a writer and a musician. I never wanted a full-time job in the first place. I’ve had them, lots of them, but I always felt like my real career was elsewhere, outside the job. You might say my own writing was my baby, the child I needed to take care of, had to get home to tend. It still is.

But I have had regular jobs in retail stores, doing secretarial work in Silicon Valley offices, setting type in a print shop, teaching, and many newspaper jobs where I was an editor, reporter, and/or photographer. People depended on me to be there as scheduled and to get my work done. What Foye is talking about is an extended paid vacation because she wants to go do something else for a while. Don’t we all? But it’s not the same thing as maternity leave. Is it?

Foye’s novel does sound like fun though.

We haven’t talked much here about childlessness in the workplace. Let’s get a discussion going. I really want to know what it’s like for you.

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Mother’s Day is this Sunday. I’m tickled because I just got myself this Sunday off from my church job. Instead of listening to the priest drone on about the glories of motherhood, I can stay home and pretend it’s just another day. If you need to duck and cover, do it. Stay away from situations that are going to make you crazy, and stay away from Facebook. It will only make you feel bad. Do something fun for yourself. Take a meternity day.